Thomas C. Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor gives insight on how to notice repeating symbols, patterns, and archetypes throughout literature. One piece of advice was to notice what background and history the author of a book had. Knowing an author's background life may give an idea of what allusions and techniques of writing he/she may use. For example, he says, "Every writer prior to sometime in the middle of the twentieth century was solidly instructed in religion" in the chapter called …Or the Bible (Foster, 52). This knowledge of the Bible was vividly illustrated through Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter. Biblical allusions scatter the storyline to help add depth the plot's overall meaning.
Hester Prynne is one of the main characters of The Scarlet Letter. Her committed sin of adultery causes her to be cast out from the Puritan community. For her punishment, she wears a scarlet A upon her clothes to indicate that she is an adulteress. Nathaniel Hawthorne describes the scene where the entire town stares at her upon the scaffold of shame. There was no way to hide this mark of disgrace. To further explain the sense of the "A", Hawthorne compares it to the mark of Cain, "Although it had set a mark upon her, more intolerable to a woman's heart than that which branded the brow of Cain…Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished" (Hawthorne, 77-78). The mark was placed on Cain, by God, to indicate his lifelong shame, for murdering his brother. But, it also was a sign that no one was allowed to kill him; it was God's mercy given to him, for protection. Unfortunately, Hester Prynne only received one end of the stick. Her badge signified the God's judgment and wrath upon her, although the town showed no mercy.
Hawthorne illustrates the town's bitterness in such a way, that it signifies another Biblical allusion. A woman cried, "This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly, there is, both is Scripture and the statute-book" (Hawthorne, p.49). Her passionate fury is that of the people from the Biblical story of an adulteress. John 8:7 shows how Jesus replied, "So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, `He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." A townswoman in Hawthorne's story similarly pleads for mercy, on behalf of Hester, "Ah, but," interposed, more softly, a young wife, holding a child by the hand, "let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart" (Hawthorne, p.49). In...